Aston Martin Lagonda SUV: Should We Be Excited?
Ferrari's wrong step was the big surprise this year, its overall sales tumbling because carabinieri tightened the clamp on tax evasion in Italy. A Bentley official once said that if a butterfly flaps its wings in China, sales of the Flying Spur are going to be affected. However, Porsche's bottom line is stronger than ever. A recent study showed that they have the most option-friendly customers. I think you know where I'm going with this one!
Diversification is the key to creating a bigger luxury brand, which in turn is the key to stability. It's why Apple makes more than just iPhones, why Porsche has SUVs. It explains why Audi, BMW and Mercedes sell more cars in Britain even than Jaguar Land Rover.
Bigger companies with a solid bottom line have to take fewer big risks and can focus on details. They routinely outsource development and buy up smaller competing companies to gain access to new markets and tech.
But despite its world-famous name, Aston has had some major flops and is having to rethink itself. The Cygnet city car they got from Toyota is being killed off after only 150 sales, a tad shy of the 12,000 they thought they were going to make, while the Virage was the shortest lived sportcar I've ever seen. That's two big risks taken with no reward. Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin combined have more heritage and history behind them than all the hundreds of new makers in China and India put together. When Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford founded their company in 1913, there was no quattro GmbH, no xDrive and no 4Matic. Yet they're struggling.
It's all-wheel drive SUVs that all three companies are being asked to make, and for lone-wolf Aston, it could be a matter of survival. The company announced losses of €29.5 million for 2012, and really, I fail to see how the beautiful Vanquish will help them in the long run.
From product manager Andy Haslam to famous CEO Ulrich Bez, Aston has plenty of smart people who already know they need an SUV as bad as they need air. I bet all of them have a Range Rover or a Merc somewhere in their garage. But there simply isn't enough money in the bank to make one. Even if they did finish it by 2016… let's say, that vehicle would carry with it a huge risk of failure.
As I've established, diversity is key if you want lots of buyers. Launching new versions frequently means some Porsche owners can change their cars every 2 years. Some want small diesels, others naturally aspirated V8s and improved track capabilities. Aston Meanwhile has always been that "we know what you want better than you" type of company.
While Aston sits and counts its pennies, Bentley, Jaguar and Maserati have confirmed that they will launch SUVs within about 4 years, with Lamborghini still waiting for Audi approval on the Urus. By the time the Brits are ready to jump onto the bandwagon, it may already bee too late for them. Which brings me to my question: Is it worth waiting for the Lagonda name to be stamped on the back of an SUV?
It's not as easy as filling the cabin of a Toyota iQ with leather and calling it a baby swan, the Lagonda will have to take on the most technologically advanced cars on the market, equipped with all-seeing traffic sensors. Engine technology also needs to jump two or three generations ahead. Believe it or not, but the new Vanquish, their ultimate series production car, is slower to 100 km/h than a luxury car like the Mercedes S63 AMG equipped with 4Matic all-wheel drive.
Basically, it's like playing a high-stakes game of poker by going all-in straight off the bat. The Lagonda SUV shown in 2009 was based on on a model from Mercedes, the same company which reportedly spent €1 billion to develop the E-Class facelift family launched this year. In December 2012, a company called Investindustrial spent £150 million for a 37.5% take in Aston. That means as a company, Aston's technically worth £400 million or €470 million, less than half the rumored price of E-Class development.
The way I see it, the only value here is the brand, so for the Lagonda to be a world-class SUV, it needs to be fully backed with Mercedes ownership of the company. Otherwise, it's going to be another Virage – pretty, but easily forgotten in a couple of years.